Keep Your Farm Buzzing–3 ways to encourage native pollinators this year

For most produce farmers, crop planning is done and the planting has begun (though still inbumble bee the greenhouse for most Vermonters!).  But have you planned to support the creatures that can make or break your yields? Well, farm workers could be on this list, but the creatures I’m talking about are pollinators– specifically the bee family.  It turns out that 30% of food crops require a pollinator, and bees are the best pollinators out there.  Recently, John Hayden from The Farm Between in Jeffersonville, VT shared information and strategies for encouraging native pollinators on farm landscapes in a UVM Extension New Farmer Project webinar.  All New Farmer webinars are recorded and accessible in the webinar archive.

So here are three things you can do this year to start supporting these important farm workers throughout the season, so they’ll keep turning up for work each Spring.

1. Identify food shortages.

While we rely on pollinators when our cultivated crops are in bloom, if you want them to Apple Blossomsturn up for work, you need to make sure they have a season long supply of food.  This year, observe when cultivated and wild species are in bloom on your property, and identify any time periods when there is a gap in the pollinator food supply (nectar and pollen).  Then visit the Lady Bird Johnson Wildlife Center site which has a searchable database of native plants that you can sort by bloom time, soil type and sun exposure.  Find suppliers of these plants on the Xerces Society for Invetebrate Conservation site.

2.  Time you mowing; careful with your spraying.

Hayden encourages farmers to “soften” their eyes when looking at what are traditionally considered weed species.  Dandelions, milkweed, and others are excellent food for pollinators.  Time your mowing to happen after the flowering of these pollinator delectables.  milkweed flowerIf you spray, don’t spray when the crop or neighboring plants are in flower.  Pesticides and herbicides are significant contributors to the declining numbers of pollinators.  Even OMRI certified organic sprays, such as spinosad and neem products, can be harmful to pollinators.

3.  Make a home.

Bees need safe places to nest, rear young and over winter.  Piles of brush, bare and sandy south facing soil, and wood with 6 inch deep holes bored throughout are a few examples of attractive bee real estate.   Learn more Bee housing made from logs and reedsabout making a home for your insect labor force in this Xerces Society fact sheet Nests for Native Bees.  Or look at the many examples, such as the picture on the left, on the Treasure Coast Beekeepers website.

There is much more to learn, and a great place to start would be to watch the recording of the John Hayden’s one-hour webinar, Enhancing Native Pollinator Populations on Farms.  The Xerces Society is also a great resource, providing regional information on pollinator species.  Whatever you do, don’t forget this sex legged workforce on your farm!



Posted in Facts & Figures, Production information, Resources for Beginning Farmers, Uncategorized | Tagged , ,

Lambsicles? Or Lambing in Arctic Conditions

Lambsicles? Or Lambing in Artic Conditions
Kimberly Hagen – Grazing Specialist, UVM Extension Center for Sustainable Agricultlure

Tomorrow is the last day of March. I like the sound of the word April and saying it feels so inviting, but it flutters around like a butterfly – all particular and fussy about where it will land. It can and will be, a trying month, no matter what Persephone’s state of mind on the return. But it will be April. All the lambs are born now, filling their bellies with rich ewe’s milk, and a chubbiness starting to round out their middles and little legs. After the most challenging lambing season I have ever encountered, with regular temps of minus 15 degrees or lower every morning during this lambing season, there is a strong feeling of relief that April is indeed here – no matter the fickleness that accompanies, it can’t have the prolonged deep cold that settled here through March.

Somehow the ewes and I matched our wits and determination for a pretty good track record, with only one loss in the whole bunch of arrivals. One small one from a group of triplets on a morning of minus 20 degrees froze before the ewe could get it cleaned off. Another of the group almost didn’t make it, but I tucked into my shirt, brought it back to the house, dunked it into a sink of warm water, and toweled it dry. After a squeeze or two of warm milk into its belly, it fell asleep, but still doing the shiver/shudders of a low body temperature. Keeping it inside my shirt for the rest of the day, it finally poked its head up and gave a very loud bleat around 3 in the afternoon. It was ready to go! A syringe of moms milk, and a visit to the barn to see if the ewe would take it back. She did! Spring – here we come!

Since the ewes usually lamb sometime in the morning hours between 6 and 10 am, rarely have trouble, and are quite good at taking care of their new lambs – (I don’t keep those ewes that are not good mothers) I don’t spend all my waking hours at the barn waiting. However, I do get to the barn extra early on these cold mornings, with my “ little black bag” in hand. It has iodine, syringes, a tube, and there is a stack of towels and lamb jackets kept at the barn. If the ewe is already working on a lamb I let her have a few minutes with it before I pick it up and towel it down. I let it go to try and nurse from the ewe, and let her clean it some more and get it’s scent before I put the wool jacket on. But if she has left it to go have another lamb, I move a little quicker since negative temperatures can have a deeply chilling effect on wet objects – Lambsicles? The jackets have made all the difference in the survival rates for early, cold weather lambing, and I thank my neighbor again for giving me the boxes of Christmas stockings for recycling into lamb jackets.

And I give a nod of thanks to that great yellow orb in the sky, and Ra’s return journey to the northern hemisphere. It is deeply welcomed, folks (and lambs) turning their faces to feel the drench of basking warmth. You can’t help but think about how dear it is, and why human cultures all over the planet created deities for the role of taking and bringing back this most important force of life. Where indeed would we be without this heat and light? The focus now turns to the contest of when pastures are ready to be grazed, and whether the hay supply will hold out. It’s going to be a close one on this farm, and it might be prudent to locate a few extra bales for a better cushion should the need be there. It always amazes me how quickly these lambs start nibbling on hay and sipping water from the bucket, adapting to the next phase of their life within weeks of their birth. Tough little buggars…..

Posted in emergency reponse, Farmer Success Stories


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